Janice pulled up to the crime scene not even ten minutes later. She had done a lot of speeding to get here, navigating her way recklessly through the bustling New York City traffic and praying no cops were paying her any mind as she drove—luckily the Lord seemed to be on her side. And now as she pulled up, she could see the scene was like chaos.
In front of some alley, there was yellow police tape, blocking any witnesses from entering. Four uniformed officers stood in front of the tape, instructing the curious passerbys to stay a few feet back and let the police do their jobs. There were reporters shouting out and asking the officers if these murders had anything to do with the "Maidens of Sorrow."
Janice could see white sheets strewn over the bodies, could see the bright flash of the camera from the darkened alley as the forensics team took pictures. Curious bystanders were trying to record what was going on and Janice heard the police men and women sternly tell them not to record.
It had been a while since Janice had been called onto such a high-profile case. Sure, the baron was a very important figure, but the work she had done mostly remained anonymous. The baron's mother only wanted to know what happened to her son and Janice filled that in for her. The baron paid Janice and then Janice was on her way. Living in an age where people followed your every move, it didn't take long before people had found out that she had solved the baron's case.
But, she had never actually let herself be seen in public like this before. Yeah, okay, she'd done a few interviews and her face might have been plastered in the New York Times for the murders she solved, but never like this. This was front-page news. And as soon as she accepted this job, she would be, too. Everything she did would be under constant scrutiny. The murderer, whoever he or she was, would be watching her. No doubt wondering if she was as good as the stories claimed her to be.
Still, as terrifying as all of that was, in Janice's mind a tiny face filled her vision. The big brown eyes of a beautiful twenty-six-year-old woman with a wild afro of hair framing her face. Janice's heart twisted in her chest and her eyes tightened on the wheel.
This case was exactly like that case. The case that the detectives in her town had abruptly stopped looking into.
No, Janice knew she couldn't stop here.
She had waited almost sixteen years for this moment.
Janice stepped out of the car and began walking forward, hands shoved in her pockets to protect them from the chill. At the moment, she was surrounded by red and blue lights, the far away howl of more police sirens—no doubt coming to contain this situation which was quickly becoming out of control as people tried to press forward, eager to see the bodies of the girl lying dead in the alley.
Janice couldn't help but frown. What in the hell had this world come to where people were actually craving seeing dead bodies?
As she walked up to the crime scene, Commissioner Alistair looked up and his eyes locked with hers. He waved her over timidly, looking completely unhappy to be doing so.
Seeing the Commissioner waving someone over, the reporters followed his gaze to see where he was looking. Janice didn't even have a chance to blink before she was being swarmed, camera lights in her face, microphones pressed against her lips.
"Miss. Cooper, have you finally been roped into the case of the Maidens of Sorrow?"
"Miss. Cooper, given the fact that our own police department has been unable to find any leads, do you think you can?"
"How do you plan to go about this situation? How do you plan to find the murderer?"
Janice sighed, pushing her way through the reporters until she was standing in front of the yellow tape. The officers who were holding the crowd at bay looked at her warily. Janice couldn't help the grin that spread across her face at the sight of their uneasiness.
Janice's relationship with the police department was...rocky, to say the least. To be quite frank, the men and women in blue saw Janice as a complete and utter nuisance. Mostly, Janice suspected it was their pride that she was stepping on. The cases that the detectives at the NYPD couldn't solve were typically passed over to her by the families of the people who wanted answers. And each time, Janice found those answers.
Janice pondered that maybe that's what truly pissed off the police force: the fact that she could find these answers without any help from government sources. The fact that she, unintentionally, made the detectives look completely useless. The fact that she could talk herself into and out of any situation.
Well, it wasn't exactly her fault she had a knack for uncovering the truth. She shrugged.
"You gonna let me through or are we going to stand here and stare at each other all night?"
Janice saw the officers all glance at the Commissioner who, frowning even more deeply than before, nodded once.
The officer standing in front of Janice stepped to the side and Janice wasted no time in pulling up the yellow tape, ducking under it and heading straight for the body.
The Commissioner wasn't even looking at Janice anymore, his gaze was on the body and the frown that marred his face wasn't one of annoyance, it was one of a man who was tired.
"I didn't want you in on this case," he spoke up, running a hand down his face. "To be completely honest, Miss. Cooper, you annoy the hell out of me."
"It's nice to be appreciated."
Commissioner Alistair cut her a look before continuing on.
"But your record speaks for itself. I hate to admit it, but as a freelance detective, you can do things that we cannot. You aren't bound by the law the same way we are." He stared at the body hard, then looked at Janice. "I want this killer off my streets, Janice."
"So do I," Janice muttered, her heart twisting painfully in her chest.
She made her way over to the body and knelt where the head was, reaching over to clasp onto the white sheet that was covering what was clearly the body of a woman.
"You may want to be careful there," Commissioner Alistair warned. "These bodies are in a very gruesome state. Not for the faint of heart."
Shooting him a deadpan look, Janice said, "I solve murders for a living, Commissioner. This isn't my first rodeo."
Then she pulled the sheet away from the girl's face.
What had once been a clearly striking, young blonde, was now only a mangled corpse. Janice swallowed down the bile in her throat as, in her mind's eye, this woman's corpse became that of a young woman with dark skin and an afro of curly hair before she shook her head, forcing herself to get it together. It was hard, though, she was sure that—for a woman with dark brown skin—she must have been pale.
"I told you, not for the faint of heart," said Commissioner Alistair, his tone slightly smug.
Janice ignored him and began to examine the body. The first thing that drew Janice's eyes was this woman's lack of eyes. Where her eyes should be there was nothing, just a dark, bloody, empty socket. Upon closer inspect, Janice saw there were fingernail scratches starting just over the woman's brow and disappearing into the gore that was this now eyeless woman's face. So, someone had ripped out her eyes with their bare hands.
Janice looked further. Blood had leaked from this woman's eye socket all the way down her cheeks, dribbling down her chin, almost like tears. Janice truly understood why people called these girls the Maidens of Sorrow now.
"Do you have gloves I can borrow?" Janice asked Commissioner Alistair, not looking away from the girl's face.
Commissioner Alistair shouted for someone to bring gloves and in no time at all a young police officer brought some over. She was a cherub-faced little thing and she stared from Janice to the body and back again, her eyes moving around wildly as she handed the Commissioner the gloves used especially for scenes like this one.
The Commissioner handed the gloves over to Janice and once she had them, Janice shoved her hands quickly into them. Now that she was free to touch the victim without leaving any fingerprints, she slowly turned the victims head to the side. What she saw made her sick to her stomach.
Two puncture wounds, like something straight out of an old vampire movie, were settled neatly into the girl's snowy neck. The closer she looked, the more she could see the slight indents of the four other teeth marks in the middle, the ones that came before the canines.
"Even with these bite marks you still haven't been able to match the DNA to anyone? Surely, this person left over some saliva. They bit her."
Janice hadn't met the question in any offensive way, but Commissioner Alistair took great offense. Mostly because he was equally as horrified by their lack of ability to find answers.
"Don't you think we would've had this sick son of a bitch if we were able to get a sample of his DNA?" Commissioner Alistair asked sharply, taking a deep breath to calm himself down. "It's the strangest thing I've ever seen in all of my thirty years on the force. There are bite marks, but the attacker left no evidence behind. No saliva, no fingerprints, not even a hair." Commissioner Alistair rubbed his temples as he forced a headache back. "No one can figure it out."
"The news said there have been fifty-seven murders, but how many have there been? Really? Not dialing it back for the press and to keep people from being terrified. How many lives has this bastard taken?"
There was a long bout of silence, a silence that went on so long, Janice looked up from the body to stare at Commissioner Alistair. His lips were pursed together tightly, his eyes showing his unwillingness to admit just how many bodies this murderer had racked up. His eyes told Janice to drop it.
She met his hard gaze with a stare of equal hardness. Her eyes telling him that she would keep asking the damn question until he answered it. Her stare telling him she would not comply to simply "dropping it."
Finally, sighing, Commissioner Alistair said, "This girl is his hundredth victim."
Unable to help herself, Janice sucked in a sharp breath. No wonder the police had said there had only been fifty-seven. Sure, fifty-seven was a lot of lives to be lost, but one hundred was even worse. No doubt the public would be in an uproar, a panic, doubting the police could protect their wives, their sisters and their daughters from the sick person committing these crimes.
Shaking herself out of her shock, Janice placed the cover carefully over the girl's body and stood, removing the gloves from her hands and exposing them to the cold air as she did so.
"I'm going to need case files. All one hundred of them."
Blowing out yet another sigh, Commissioner Alistair nodded.
"Fine. Head on down to the station, I'll let them know to let you into the archives."
Janice gave one nod and began heading to her car, her mind far away. She was swarmed by the press again as she walked. Each of them tossing a million questions at her. What would she do next? Did she have any ideas on who this killer might be? Things like that. She deflected them all, especially that last one. She had just been assigned this case not even twenty minutes ago, there's no way in Hell she'd have any ideas on the murderer just yet.
When she was finally in her car, she pulled out of the parking lot, trying to be careful not to hit any of the people surrounding her—though it was incredibly difficult due to the bright lights shining in her eyes. When she had finally pulled out of the area and was on the infamously busy New York streets, she headed straight in the direction of the police station.
She would read through each and every one of those files tonight. She would make sure to add these recent killings to her board. The board she kept to remind her of the murder from all those years ago. She would study this murderer until she had exhausted all knowledge of him. Until she knew how to find him and where to find him. And when she finally did find this sicko, she'd bring him to justice.
Her stomach rumbled and she sighed.
She'd also need food. Take out it was.
Janice found herself in her apartment combing through the files shrewdly not even an hour later. Things had been tense when she had shown up to the police station and informed Detective Lewis that she was on the case now. The detective and his partner, Detective Smith, had been so livid Janice was sure she would have to use every self-defense technique she knew to keep them at bay.
They seemed to think Janice was lying about the fact that Commissioner Alistair put her on the case at first, but upon calling the Commissioner their amused expressions quickly turned to anger. Grudgingly, they had all but shoved the case files into Janice's hands and she had proceeded to leave quickly. She didn't want to be in there any more than those detectives wanted her there.
As soon as she was inside her apartment, her concentration immediately went to those files. Her concentration had only been broken once when the delivery man showed up at her door with a brown paper bag with "The Sunflower" written in bold, red Chinese characters.
And that's how she ended up where she was now, finishing up the last of her Lo Mein as she stared at the board she had created, squinting as she tried to draw a connection.
These girls really had nothing in common—unless you count the fact that they were all beautiful. They were of different backgrounds, nationalities, races, and religions. These girls didn't know each other, their paths had never crossed. And yet, somehow, they were all murdered by the same person.
Janice had spent her fair share of time hunting murders and something she had found out was that there were rarely coincidences. She had stumbled across a murder where the murderer seemed to close his eyes and point and wherever he pointed, that's who his victim would be. But this seemed different. This murderer was picking these particular girls for a reason.
She could feel it in her bones.
It was as she was staring at the board that a thought occurred to her that she nearly slapped herself silly for not having thought of earlier.
She grabbed the file for the first girl, then the second and then the third. She went on like this, looking at the reports to see one thing and one thing only: what exactly did these girls do before their murders?
She sucked in a sharp breath as she saw that they had all done the same thing.
Janice stood up so quickly, the chair she was sitting it fell over, but she hardly acknowledged it. Her eyes were on the clock which told her it was eleven-thirty.
Janice was sure that the place she was going was only just waking up.